Feelings and the Christian Experience

April 22, 2014

The Church has just been through the lows and highs and the Christian calendar, walking with Jesus through his passion and death, experiencing the emptiness of Holy Saturday, and the exultation of Easter. People’s reaction to this emotional ride vary from indifference to obsession, but the intensity of the calendar’s events is intended to draw us in to Christ’s experience in order to appreciate all the more what he did for us. My post on Good Friday was an expression of that gratitude.

But then there are people who felt almost nothing, though they would have liked to, and it is for them that I would like to share my recent experience. I walked through the last week emotionally cautious for a different reason: to get emotional would have exacerbated a physical condition I am struggling with at the moment.

As you probably know, the third major treatment of my lung cancer was to remove the affected upper left lobe of my lung, which encased the now dead tumor. Last Thursday, my surgeon declared me sufficiently recovered from that operation to proceed to my final precautionary round of chemo, which started yesterday. However, I am also dealing with a lingering condition requiring the attention of a pulmonary specialist. The symptoms—tight chest, constricted airways, wheezy breathing—mimic asthma though it is not clear that this is the cause. Because exercise now causes counterproductive coughing jags, I am stalled in my rehab. Okay, we’re getting a handle on this now, and a new med is on the way, for which I am sure I will be deeply grateful as soon as I get the go-ahead to use it! (Things get so complicated when you have four doctors treating you for the variety of medical side effects and clinical conditions that create the cancer-constellation.)

I found out the hard way, as I sat at my dying mother’s ICU bedside two weeks ago, that crying caused constriction in my chest, uncontrollable coughing, and hyperventilation. I literally had to leave the room in order to “catch my breath.” So crying was not available as an emotional release or expression of my feelings at such a precious time. I have preached or sung at enough memorial services to have learned, as a professional, to keep my emotions in check. So that is what I did in this case, as a matter of medical necessity.

And then Holy Week happened, and once again, I was faced with the elation of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the depths of Christ’s passion and crucifixion, the glory of Easter. And all I could do was go through the motions. I didn’t even go to my favorite service of the year on Maundy Thursday, because it was just too much to bear. Good Friday carried with it enough distractions (doctors’ appointments, picking up daughter from airport) to keep me on an even keel. Yes, I did sing some beautiful choral pieces Friday night, but I could stay in “professional” mode. And then on Easter morning, we got up early to attend worship at 8:00. It was wonderful by all objective standards, but by then—because I had not really felt the lows all week—the highs had much less impact on me.

I have described a situation that is common—albeit for a host of different reasons—to many people at this time of year. We wonder sometimes why we just don’t feel the impact of what is repeatedly proclaimed as the most stupendous set of events in Jesus’ life and in our own. What is wrong with us that we do not feel it, we ask? There are several possible reasons for this: negative associations with anything “church” related, trauma experienced earlier in life, a world that is just too busy and too plugged in to have room for genuine emotion, an addictive habit that has masked pain for a long time.

But here is the good news: the fact that we didn’t feel anything does not change one bit the importance and effectiveness of what Jesus did for us two thousand years ago and what God is doing today. Our gracious God does not require our feelings—or even our faith, if you want to get really radical about it—to do his thing. That thing is redemption: the reclaiming of what is his and its restoration to its proper place within his realm. This is something only God can do, and our emotions (or lack thereof) affect our experience but not the thing itself.

And so, in keeping with the general concept of St. John of the Cross and his Dark Night of the Senses, written about in a previous post, we simple place ourselves in silent readiness for God’s touch at the right moment. That place of readiness might be as simple as an hour in the porch swing on a spring day, quiet reading of the day’s lectionary Scriptures at the kitchen table, or a walk on the beach listening to God’s immense power crash in waves. Find your place of quiet where God can meet you. He won’t make you cry if you can’t or don’t want to. He will simply say, “I did this for you, because I love you.”

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3 Responses to “Feelings and the Christian Experience”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    Yes. Coming to terms honestly with where you really are is one of your gifts… and it’s sure been tested and sharpened lately, kiddo!

  2. Jodie Says:

    “we simple place ourselves in silent readiness for God’s touch at the right moment. ” That is what I call “waiting upon the Lord”

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